Fake Shops and Hope from Enniskillen

Apparently they have put fake shop fronts up in Enniskillen so that those attending the G8 summit won’t have to see the results of the austerity they’ve been inflicting on us. Potemkin’s villages I thought – Grigoriy Potemkin was a minister and lover of Catherine The Great who, when the Tsarina was travelling down the Volga once, arranged for fake villages to be built on the riverbank, dressed peasants and serfs up in new clothes and made them laugh and dance as the royal boat passed by. Catherine should not see how things really were in Russia.

More recently, in the 1980s, I lived in West Berlin. Being in an enclave, albeit a large one, you could not fail to be aware of the presence of East Berlin and the German Democratic Republic. I could see the TV tower from my flat, a constant reminder of the political system that laid claim to the future and yet now belongs to the past. A story that came to light soon after the Wall came down illustrates why it’s in the past.

The GDR was very proud of its policy of building social housing. When the millionth new flat was competed, in East Berlin in 1985, this was a matter for celebration. It was decided that Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Party,  would personally hand over the keys to the lucky tenants. Before the day officers from the State Security, the feared Stasi descended on the area to spruce it up. Leaves, browned by pollution, were painted green, the empty shelves of the local supermarket were stocked with huge amounts of fresh produce, none of it for sale, including the near mythical bananas.

After handing over the keys Comrade Honecker stayed for tea, a sumptuous spread of meats and breads and cheeses which the Stasi brought with them and took away after Honecker had gone. The poor tenants were only allowed to keep a half empty bottle of schnaps..The following day the supermarket was emptied of the bananas and oranges, in fact of anything worth buying.

The point of this story is that this was a German version of Potemkin’s villages.The Volga, East Berlin , Enniskillen; each one the mark of arrogant and out of touch elites who are ignorant of, or indifferent to, the problems of ordinary people. Tsarism has gone, the GDR has gone too; maybe there is hope after all?.

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